Lords Valley Country Club, Hemlock Farms, Pennsylvania July 19, 2012
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I want to personally thank Mr. Carl for fulfilling a 40 year long dream of mine and that is to see the tower and the adjoining property that served as the on-location shoots for the crime/mystery oriented daytime drama, 'The Edge of Night.' I also want to personally thank my aunt, Mrs. Virginia Jahoda, for driving me here today. My appreciation also goes out to Mark Faulkner of Memphis, Tennessee, who is the webmaster of 'The Edge Homepage,' actor Bruce Martin, who starred in these scenes back in 1971, to actor Donald May who played Adam Drake and to Sam Ford, the editor of 'The Survival of Soap Opera: Transformations for a New Media Era,' for allowing me to share my memories of a show that was a very big part of my early life for over twenty years.
It is not often that two divergent interests meld together, but when they do, it is a magical experience. As my Aunt Virginia will attest, I have been a Presidential History buff as long as I can remember. She aided and abetted in my love for presidential history by giving me my first book on 'The First Ladies' when I was about 10 years old. Most of my life, I have been involved in History and politics. I am a Magna Cum Laude graduate of Mercy College, Yorktown Heights, NY, with my Bachelor's degree in History. I am a 1986 inductee of 'Who's Who Among Students in American Universities & Colleges,' among my many academic honors.
I served as Village Historian of my hometown of Ossining from 1997 - 2003. And, lastly for more than 25 years, I was an elected Westchester county committee member for one of the two major parties, and in my travels, I've campaigned in the snows of New Hampshire during the 'First-in-the-Nation Primary and have been invited and have attended several presidential inaugurations. These were all things on my bucket list, which I happily achieved. And, today, I achieve something that I've wanted to do for the past 40 years.
'The Edge of Night' and 'As the World Turns' both premiered on the CBS Television network on April 2, 1956. They were the first half-hour daily serials. They were, for their first 19 years on the air, presented live rather than being videotaped. In 1975, both shows became the last two serials to go from being broadcast live to being pre-recorded.
'The Edge of Night,' created by Irving Vendig was unique because of its crime/mystery format rather than the usual problems and storylines you would see on a typical soap opera. For that reason, Edge boasted in having a large male viewing audience.
In 1968, we were blessed to have the master mystery storyteller, Henry Slesar, take over the headwriting duties. Slesar, during his career, had written many of the 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' and 'Alfred Hitchcock Hour' teleplays.
In 1970, Slesar embarked on a political storyline by creating the Whitney family fashioned after America's Royal Family, the Kennedys. We are all familiar with the quote of Oscar Wilde that says “Life imitates art, more than art imitates life“. Well, in this case, Henry Slesar chose the latter and created this fictional political family dynasty that also harbored secrets and scandals within its bosom.
The Whitneys' patriarch Gordon was a three term US Senator whose bid for a fourth term failed due to his fondness for spirits. Geraldine, the Iron Maiden matriarch, was determined to see the Whitney name reinstated in the halls of Congress by grooming her first-born son, Colin, for a campaign in which he would reclaim his father's old US Senate seat. And, then there was the younger son, Keith. The rebel in the family, Keith coveted the attention that was lavished on his older brother by their mother, and made a vow, to himself, that he, too would climb the political ladder, but far exceed the success achieved by either his father or his brother. Keith had one goal in mind, and that was to take up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. He would not settle for anything less. Privately, the family discussed how troubled the young man was. He had tortured animals as a child, and Colin confided to his wife Tiffany that at a very young age, Keith attempted to suffocate a playmate who caught him stealing and threatened to tell.
Over an 18 month long storyline, headwriter Henry Slesar crafted a mystery that was filled with intrigue, and truly kept you on the edge of your seat. Five residents of the mythical mid-western city of Monticello, USA and the mythical Caribbean island of St. Elenora met their early demise, as each presented a threat to the Younger Whitney's climb up the political ladder.
Monticello residents Keith Whitney and Jim Fields, a psychiatrist, served in the army corps on the tropical island of St. Elenora. Keith met a young native girl Suella Duval. Taken by her beauty, Keith actively pursued her. Suella was a deeply religious girl, who would not consent to sleep with Keith unless they were married. The two secretly tied the knot, but when it became apparent that Suella did not meet the criteria needed for a well educated, dutiful wife who would stand by her husband at campaign rallies, Keith realized that he needed to do something to get rid of her. Back home, Keith became engaged to a beautiful young socialite, Stacey Kendall, who fit the criteria of a 'political trophy wife.' When Keith asked Suella for an annulment, she refused. On a moonlight boat ride off the island, Keith drowned Suella.
The only fly in the ointment was his fellow Monticello-ite, Dr. Jim Fields, who knew Keith was involved with Suella. One night, back home, Keith, using a duplicate key to Jim Fields' apartment, he proceeded to fatally stab the sleeping body covered up in bed. But, it wasn't Jim, but an ex-girlfriend of Jim's, Rosella Gray, who had planned to seduce him and cause friction in Jim's engagement to the young Monticello heiress Liz Hillyer.
Keith may not have accomplished his mission to 'silence' Jim, the way he intended to, but when Jim was promptly arrested for Rosella's murder, Keith breathed a heavy sigh of relief. That was one way in which to get him out of the picture.
Keith had faked his own death in a motorcycle accident. He assumed a new identity, that of a long-haired and bearded hippie, by the name of Jonah Lockwood.
Questions arose over these two deaths, and Nancy Karr, the wife of attorney Mike Karr, who was a reporter for her father's local newspaper, flew to St. Elenora, to investigate. On the island, Nancy learned Suella had drowned in a boating accident. However, Suella's grandmother insisted to Nancy that Suella had been a very strong swimmer, and her death seemed extremely suspicious. Meanwhile, Nancy was secretly being followed by someone. First, the stalker placed a poisonous scorpion in Nancy's bed, with the intent of scaring her away. Nancy was bitten, but the species of scorpion wasn't deadly, so Nancy wasn't seriously harmed. Next, the stalker spiked Nancy's drink with poison. This too failed when she was discovered and had her stomach pumped in time. Nancy returned to Monticello, this time asking Adam Drake, Mike's law partner, for help with the case.
Accompanied by his longtime girlfriend Nicole and Professor Neil Davenport (Colin Whitney's campaign manager), Adam flew back to St. Elenora. His investigation uncovered claims that Keith Whitney had, indeed, secretly married Suella before her death. Doing his own investigating, Professor Davenport managed to locate Suella's former home. He went there and was astonished to find a Monticello newspaper dated the same day as Keith Whitney's 'supposed' death. Before Davenport could take the evidence to Adam, he was bludgeoned to death by an unseen assailant. Davenport's car was later found at the bottom of a ravine, leading authorities to believe he had died in a freak car accident.
The late director John Sedwick, who was a member of the Lords Valley Country Club, suggested to the headwriter that the property would make a great on-location shoot. Slesar looked at the property, and as they say, the rest is history.
Confronting his uncle, Dr. Charles Weldon, Keith/Jonah pushed Uncle Charlie off the roof of the tower that was on the grounds of the Whitney estate, in the Spring of 1971. There was one little funny 'blooper' in this filmed sequence, the 'thud' that was suppose to accompany Dr. Weldon's body hitting the ground, was a second or two late. But, they kept it in, anyway.
Adam Drake, through his continuing investigation, suspected Dr. Weldon of these murders. After Weldon's body was discovered at the base of the tower, it was revealed that he had been secretly embezzling over one million dollars from the Whitney trust fund. The police closed the book on Dr. Weldon's case by labeling his death as a suicide.
The college age daughter of Mike Karr, Laurie Ann, had moved out of the family home, and took a small apartment in a seedier part of town. She shared the apartment with a young girl by the name of Tango Humphries. Tango was part of the counter-culture scene and introduced her to Jonah Lockwood. Jonah became instantly attracted to Laurie Ann, and started dating her.
After inviting Tango and her boyfriend Max to a college pot-and-pill party, Jonah tipped off the police, who arrested Tango and Max for drug possession. Tango, realizing she had been set up by Jonah, threatened to expose him as the 'very much alive' Keith Whitney. Jonah drugged her with LSD, and after she was flying high, he shoved her out the 5th floor window of her and Laurie's apartment. However, Nancy arrived at that very moment and noted that the window was shut. Jonah's claim that he'd been alone in the apartment didn't hold up in Nancy's scrutiny, because there was no way Tango could have fallen and shut the window behind her.
Nancy, Laurie's step-mother, now presented Keith/Jonah as his greatest threat. Jonah went to visit Nancy at the Karr home. He drugged her, then bound her hands to the steering wheel of the car, turned on the ignition, and left her to die in the garage. During the 'live' broadcast, when the camera took a close-up shot of the car's tail pipe, you could actually hear the stage manager whispering instructions to the special effects department to produce 'More smoke, more smoke.'
Jonah went into the Karr's bathroom, and proceeded to shave off his beard. Ironically, he used 'Edge' shaving shaving gel, which was NOT a Procter & Gamble product, During rehearsal, actor Bruce Martin, who played the dual roles of Keith Whitney and Jonah Lockwood, told the stage manager that the folks in Cincinnati, the headquarters for Procter & Gamble, would not be happy when they saw this 'non P&G product' being used. The funniest thing is, believe it or not, not only does Bruce Martin continue, to this very day, in using Edge shaving gel, but so does the webmaster of 'The Edge of Night' homepage, Mark Faulkner. And, here I thought, I was the only one to do so!
The second and final location shoot at Lords Valley was recorded on Wednesday, November 17, 1971 for broadcast on December 3, 1971.Scenes included exterior shots of the tower,Keith Whitney (Bruce Martin) and Laurie Ann Karr (Emily Prager) arriving at the estate, Keith and Laurie walking through the woods, sitting by a lake, and walking to a boathouse. Later, when Laurie realizes that Keith and Jonah were one and the same, she starts to run. Keith chases Laurie through the woods. Escaping, Laurie runs down a road on the estate and arrives at their car, only to discover the keys missing from the ignition. She sees Keith standing in a clearing, dangling the keys in his hand with a sinister smile on his face. Keith again runs after Laurie as she makes her way to the tower. Keith enters the tower. Laurie is knocked unconscious when she falls off the stairs by attempting to strike him. He carries her up to the trap door leading to the roof.
Just as Keith is hovering over Laurie's body, he is startled to hear his mother, Geraldine's voice coming from the foot of the tower's spiral staircase. Geraldine pleads with her youngest son not to go through with his plan to kill Laurie.
'No Mama, I'm going to take of myself...I'm going to be what you never thought I could be...I'm going to more than Papa ever was! Do you hear me? I'm going to be bigger than Colin and bigger than Papa! You're going to be proud of me yet. Mama, you're going to say...He was the best one! He was the best!'
Geraldine continues to plead with her son.
With tears in his eyes, Keith says: "I want you to stand by my side...when I say...
'I, Keith Whitney do solemnly swear that I will faithully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.'
Geraldine moves closer to the stairwell. Keith warns her to stay away. He turns to go to the stairs again. But he has forgotten about Laurie on the step above him. He trips, tumbles down the spiral staircase, as his horrified mother shrieks.
Realizing that he is dead, Geraldine kneels down, gently touches him and whispers, 'Rest, Rest.'
Now, for those of you who are soap watchers, you may be curious to know what the ratings were for 'Edge' at that time. The show's ratings for that week was a 10.0 with a 33% share of the audience, placing them in the #2 spot among the then daytime soaps. Edge's rating means that on an average day, 10% of American homes with televisions were tuned in to the show, and it captured 33% of all televisions in use during the half hour it was actually on the air. This translates to an average daily viewership of 9.6 million people. According to Executive Producer Nick Nicholson, the day of the Keith Whitney story climax, Edge was the #1 rated soap for that day. These are numbers that the soap world has not seen in years.
These numbers validate how powerful this storyline was. The ensemble of the cast and crew did a phenomenal job in bringing this storyline to life. Kudos must be given to the late Erwin Nicholson, who later on would win the Emmy for Outstanding Daytime Drama in 1973; and to Henry Slesar, who won the Emmy for Outstanding Daytime Drama Writer in 1974.
Special recognition should be given to Bruce Martin. Early in his tenure, Bruce asked headwriter Henry Slesar how he wanted him to play his characters. Slesar answered: "A combination of Ted Kennedy run amok and Charles Manson. In his first professional acting job, Martin heeded the advice of the headwriter by masterfully bringing to life the dual roles of Keith Whitney and Jonah Lockwood. Mr. Martin has given his consent to tell you that he left acting, and remained behind the scenes and rose to the position of Vice President of CBS-TV, retiring in 2009.
Emily Prager should be acknowledged for her role of Laurie Ann Karr. After leaving the fictional city of Monticello, Prager was a contributing editor of The National Lampoon Magazine an a performer on The National Lampoon Radio Hour. She was a writer for, and briefly a cast member of Saturday Night Live, a writer-performer in the cult film, Mr. Mike's Mondo Video, and Robert Longo's Arena Brains. Her works include a compendium of her humor writing In the Missionary Position, the acclaimed short story collection A Visit From the Footbinder and Other Stories, and the novels Eve's Tattoo, Clea and Zeus Divorce, and Roger Fishbite, and a memoir Wuhu Diary, a journal of the visit she made to China, to show her then five-year old adopted daughter where she was born. Ms. Prager is a Literary Lion of the New York Public Library, and in the year 2000 she received the first online journalism award for commentary given by Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She currently teaches at the Shanghai American School (Pudong Campus) in Shanghai, China.
Lois Kibbee left Edge in December 1971. She then went to play in the Procter & Gamble sponsored soap 'Somerset' on NBC between 1972-73. Ironically, Bruce Martin was tapped to play her son, but at the last moment, the ad agency gave the role to another actor. Kibbee, the niece of actor Guy Kibbee, co-wrote actress Joan Bennett's autobiography 'The Bennett Playbill.' Ms. Kibbee returned to Edge in November 1973 and stayed with the show for the next eleven years. During this time, Edge moved to ABC in December of 1975. Kibbee went on to serve as Associate Writer for the show, receiving an Emmy nomination in 1982, and received four nominations for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series in 1979, 1980, 1981 and 1984. Sadly, Miss Kibbee died of a brain tumor in 1993 at the age of 71.
I was privileged and honored to be one of only two fans invited to the show's final taping in December of 1984. It had always been a dream of mine to visit the set. And, now, happily, I have achieved my ultimate dream and that is to see the Tower and the grounds of the Whitney Summer Estate. I thank Mr. Carl and the staff of Lords Valley Country Club for making my 40 year long dream a reality.